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April 29 2017 4:28 PM

The Best Signs From the Larger Than Expected Climate March

The sweltering heat didn't stop tens of thousands of demonstrators from gathering in Washington on Saturday for a People’s Climate March that demanded action on climate change. Hundreds of other marches took place across the country and the world on the day that marked President Trump's 100th day in office to object the way the White House has rolled back environmental protections. Several well-known climate activists took part in the march, including Leonardo DiCaprio and former vice president Al Gore.

The Sierra Club, which helped organize the march, said the protest demonstrated the strength of climate activists. “Donald Trump can try to stick his head in the sand when it comes to protecting our clean air and water all he wants, but that will never drown out the millions of voices across the country demanding action," Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, said in a statement.

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As has become the norm in these periodic protests that have come to define the Trump era, great signs were everywhere. Here are some of the best:

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April 29 2017 3:04 PM

Trump Spends 100th Day in Office Whining About Media Coverage

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on his 100th day in office to hit out at a familiar target: “fake news.” Hours before he was set to hold a campaign-style rally in Pennsylvania, Trump once again complained about how mainstream media has been covering his presidency. Even though he didn’t explicitly mention the 100-versary, Trump noted that the “mainstream (FAKE) media” is unwilling to cover his administration’s “long list of achievements.”

The tweet followed a clear pattern as the phrase “fake news” was what “most often leapt from Trump’s fingertips to his smartphone” in his first 100 days in office, according to a Newsweek analysis. Overall Trump has tweeted the words “fake news” 30 times since becoming president, six more than his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” (or #MAGA).

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Even as he blasted “(FAKE) media,” Trump made clear there were some journalists he did like. He retweeted a Fox tweet that cited Tucker Carlson and thanked Lou Dobbs for praising him.

So, yep, just another day in office as leader of the free world.

April 29 2017 1:36 PM

EPA Scrubs Climate Change Sections From Website Hours Before Climate March

It took (almost) 100 days but the Environmental Protection Agency has finally gone ahead and removed references to climate change science from its websites. The EPA issued a statement saying the website will be “undergoing changes that reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt.”

Specifically, the pages relating to climate change, climate science, and the impacts of climate change have been removed. Also scrapped was a website that provided information on the Clean Power Plan by the previous administration. That page now redirects to a piece on Trump’s executive order that undid large chunks of his predecessor’s climate agenda. EPA’s spokesman justified the changes by saying that “we want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.”

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Although these changes that were announced late Friday weren’t exactly surprising, the timing was a bit suspect. It came mere hours after thousands of protesters were expected to take to the streets to protest President Donald Trump’s actions to undermine the country’s actions on the climate.

After the changes were announced, David Doniger, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air program, wrote on Twitter that the “cleansing has begun.”

Taking down pages from the EPA’s website is merely the latest example of how Trump has been fulfilling his campaign promise to dismantle the agency and roll back its regulations. CNN explains:

From the start, the White House made efforts to change the EPA's regulatory authority. Through a series of executive orders, some a mere days after Trump took office, the administration made clear its intention to support what it views as economic growth over environmental protections—a maneuver it routinely calls cutting red tape.
“There is no way to sugarcoat this, President Trump has taken a wrecking ball to environmental protection in the US,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union for Concerned Scientists. “Frankly I didn't think this would happen with the severity with this is happening. We have had changes in powers before. Different presidents strike a different balance. But this is a severe attack that we didn't expect.”

Carol Browner, who served as EPA administrator from 1993 to 2001 says that while there was once a bipartisan agreement that protecting the environment was important, “those days may be over.” She explains:

Shockingly in the president's first 100 days, the administration is working to take America backwards.
How? They are using federal budget cuts, executive orders and the courts to undermine the EPA's authority to enforce health and environmental protections; to gut the Clean Air Act, the landmark public health and environmental protection law which has led to drastic reductions in toxic pollutants, and protected Americans for more than four decades.
President Donald Trump has proposed slashing EPA's funding to a 40-year low and cutting 20 percent of its staff, cuts that will significantly curtail EPA's ability to enforce the country's environmental laws. Even some Republicans are alarmed.

April 29 2017 12:48 PM

Half of Immigrants Targeted for Deportation Didn’t Commit Violent Crimes

Records released about a series of raids targeting undocumented immigrants suggest that Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents are not, in fact, focusing on deporting violent criminals. Data obtained by the Washington Post shows that about half of the 675 immigrants detained in raids across the United States in early February had no criminal convictions or had committed traffic offenses.

These numbers represent only a small fraction of the 21,362 immigrants that have been taken into custody from January through mid-March but it suggests the net for deportation is being cast a lot wider than officials have suggested. In fact, of that total, 5,441 were not criminals at all. The data “confirms our worst fears, which is that this administration is really trying to deport as many as possible regardless of whether they have a criminal record,” said Kica Matos, a spokeswoman for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement.

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Other activists have emphasized that the raids under Trump have spread fear in communities across the country. “We cannot understate the level of panic and terror that is running through many immigrant communities,” Walter Barrientos, a member of the nonprofit organization Make the Road New York, said in February. Part of this fear has to do with the way agents aren’t “just detaining individuals they are looking for ... but in fact, taking anyone else in the community, or in these homes who does not have immigration status at the moment, or who is not able to prove citizenship.”

Little wonder then that Fusion noted one of Trump’s only accomplishments of his first 100 days has been “terrorizing immigrants.” President Barack Obama was also fond of deporting people, but Trump has expanded those undocumented immigrants can be considered “high priorities” to be kicked out of the country. Despite this dynamic though, the terror that Trump’s administration has sown in immigrant communities has largely been left out of the discussions of the president’s first 100 days in office.

April 29 2017 11:53 AM

North Korea Defies the World by Firing Another Missile (But it Quickly Fails)

Pyongyang tried to show it was immune to global pressure to curb its nuclear and ballistic missile programs by firing another missile on Saturday. But it exploded quickly after being launched, marking the third failed test of this month. Still, coming at a time of renewed international pressure on North Korea, the test was another sign of how totalitarian ruler Kim Jong Un is determined to make progress on his weapons programs regardless of what other countries may say.

The launch came mere hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that global action is needed to curb Pyongyang’s ambitions because “failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences.”

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President Trump took to Twitter shortly after the failed launch to specifically note how it was an affront to Beijing, part of his continuing effort to get China to use its leverage against North Korea’s weapons programs. “North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!,” he tweeted.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi had earlier told the U.N. meeting it was a mistake to expect Beijing to act alone against North Korea. "The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side," Wang said.

The latest string of missile launch failures are deeply embarrassing for Kim at a time when he is trying to show that his country can face off against American warships. But analysts warned it would be misguided to be comforted by these failures, because the threat is very real. “This test may have failed, but Kim Jong Un’s overall missile test record is 58 successful flight tests and 17 failures,” Shea Cotton of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation tells the Washington Post.

April 28 2017 6:35 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Grading Trump’s First 100 Days

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A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

As the week came to a close, the Daily Caller reported that a GOP-affiliated group planned “to invest in a new ad campaign devoted to promoting President Donald Trump’s first 100 days.” Meanwhile, conservative media outlets offered appraisals of their own, with almost all giving him high marks. Where they did discuss his failures, they tended to attribute them to outside forces—typically opposition from the left. In a few cases, though, some commentators did suggest that the president had gone wrong, mostly by not going far enough.

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National Review, which has sometimes criticized the president’s missteps, was largely affirmative in its assessment, writing, “[Trump] has stopped and reversed Obama’s eight-year slouch toward socialism.” It did ding him for some ongoing frustrations, including his failure to push more aggressively for appointments in the Justice Department, which has allowed Obama appointees to continue the previous administration’s policies. The article reserved its greatest scorn, however, for the president’s opponents, claiming, “Worst of all is the assassination chic that has gripped Trumpophobes who openly entertain the idea of murdering the president of the United States.”

In Breitbart, Joel B. Pollak likewise offered a sweeping appraisal of the president’s performance, asserting, “President Trump has generally fulfilled his promises. Even those who don’t like his promises seem to acknowledge that.” While he hasn’t achieved goals such as repealing Obamacare or instituting tax reform, Pollak wrote, “he made progress towards both.” Pollak made similar claims about the administration’s other activities: “One could argue, from a left-wing viewpoint, that Trump is a bad president. But no serious observer could claim he has been an ineffective one.”

Breitbart also interviewed White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who “told Breitbart News exclusively that he believes that President Donald Trump has been ‘going big league’ on trade policy in his first 100 days in office.” Priebus also praised Trump’s first address to a joint session of congress, which “has appeared in virtually no media roundups of Trump’s first 100 days.” Fox News’ website likewise featured some insider praise with an opinion piece from Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, in which McDaniel declared, “Since taking the oath of office—and in the months leading up to his inauguration—President Trump has worked tirelessly to make [his] promises a reality.

Many publications also looked at where Trump stood on specific issues. Citing the National Association of Manufacturers’ support for the president, a Daily Caller headline declared, “American Manufacturing High on Trump as he Approaches 100th Day.LifeZette looked at the president’s record on immigration, with “report-card grades offered by experts and activists who favor tougher enforcement against illegal immigration and reforms in the legal immigration system.” Though a few gave the president A’s, one went as low as a D, mostly due to Trump's handling of DACA and his failure to take a tougher line on refugees.

A popular Facebook post also riffed on the 100-day milestone:

In other news:

Conservative media’s clear villain of the week was Bill Nye, who several publications covered with scorn after the release of his Netflix show Bill Nye Saves the World, which features segments on gender, vaccination, and other hot button topics. Fox News’ Todd Starnes attacked the science educator for asking, as Starnes put it, “[S]hould people be penalized for having extra kids[?]” Worrying that “families like the Brady Bunch and the Walton’s could one day be outlawed” if this policy were enacted, Starnes wrote, “It’s frightening to imagine a nation where parents are punished for having what the left considers too many babies.”

In “Bill Nye’s View of Humanity Is Repulsive,” National Review also criticized Nye’s inquiry before moving to a broader critique of recent pro-science discourse as a whole. The publication argued that “science” has been weaponized by the left: “Just look at the coverage of the March for Science last week. The biggest clue that it was nothing more than another political event is that Nye was a speaker.”

April 28 2017 12:54 PM

Arkansas Executed Four Convicts in Eight Days to Beat the Expiration Date on Its Death Drugs

The fourth convicted murderer to be executed in eight days by the state of Arkansas convulsed 20 times before he died, an Associated Press reporter who was present said:

[Kenneth] Williams' body jerked 15 times in quick succession, then the rate slowed for a final five movements. J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson who did not witness the execution, called it "an involuntary muscular reaction" that he said was a widely known effect of the sedative midazolam, the first of three drugs administered.
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The state had scheduled eight executions to be conducted in 11 days because its supply of midazolam expires April 30; four of them were delayed by court rulings. Midazolam, which has been involved in a number of botched-execution cases across the country, is a sedative that is used as the first of three drugs in the state's lethal injection "cocktail." Many activists, and some judges, believe its use inherently constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Arkansas is one of many states that currently facing logistical or practical difficulties related to the procurement of lethal injection drugs, which pharmaceutical companies have increasingly refused to supply, in recent years, for ethical reasons.

Kenneth Williams murdered a 57-year-old man after escaping from a jail where he was serving a sentence for the murder of a 19-year-old woman. He has admitted to committing both crimes.

April 28 2017 11:41 AM

Move Over, Putin. Trump’s Got a New Man-Crush.

Xi Jinping must be one charming guy. Ever since Donald Trump met with the Chinese president at Mar-a-Lago this month—a meeting that Trump predicted would be “very difficult” because of disputes over trade and North Korea—our president has used nearly every recent interview to talk up his great rapport with Xi.

Trump told the Wall Street Journal, “We had just a very good chemistry,” sounding almost moonstruck as he recalled how a meeting that was supposed to have lasted 10 minutes went on for three hours.

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“President Xi, we have a, like, a really great relationship,” he told the AP this week.

Explaining to Politico that his presidency was, in fact, on track at the 100-day mark, he cited as evidence that, “I have a terrific relationship with Xi.”

In a new interview with Reuters, he says of a man he met less than a month ago, “He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well” and that “he loves China and he loves the people of China.”

There’s nothing wrong with the world’s two most powerful leaders getting along. It’s much better than the alternative. But it is concerning that Trump seems to suggest in these interviews that he’s basing his policy positions and worldview on his conversations with Xi, a man who—nice as he may be to talk to—is still the leader of a geopolitical rival who may not always have America’s best interests at heart.

Take the issue of currency manipulation. Trump spent most of his campaign bashing China for unfairly devaluing its currency to gain a trade advantage. He has now changed his tune, not because China hasn’t been devaluing its currency for some time, but because, as he told the AP, he has developed a great relationship with Xi, so “[f]or me to call him a currency manipulator and then say, ‘By the way, I'd like you to solve the North Korean problem,’ doesn't work.”

As for North Korea, Trump once believed that China had “total control” over the Kim regime and was tweeting as recently as last month that China has “done little to help!” in deterring the country’s nuclear program. But, he told the Wall Street Journal, after listening to Xi for just 10 minutes, he realized it was “not so easy” and that China’s leverage was actually limited. Again, this isn’t wrong, but as my colleague Fred Kaplan recently pointed out, the president of China is not the ideal messenger for that revelation.

Trump now says, in regard to Xi and North Korea, “I really feel that he is doing everything in his power to help us with a big situation.” He was also very impressed by China turning away shipments of North Korean coal to put pressure on the regime. “Look, he turned down many coal ships. These massive coal ships are coming where they get a lot of their income. They’re coming into China and they’re being turned away. That’s never happened before,” Trump told the AP. Actually, China has cracked down on trade with North Korea before, even turning away ships.

Trump also addressed Taiwan in the new Reuters interview. During the transition period, Trump had broken precedent by taking a phone call from the president of Taiwan and publicly suggested he might abandon the longstanding “one-China policy” recognizing Chinese sovereignty over the island. But Trump backed down from that stance in February after just one phone call with Xi. Now, he has rebuffed another request from the Taiwanese president for a phone call and tells Reuters that it’s because of his good relationship with Xi and the help China is providing on North Korea: “I wouldn’t want to be causing difficulty right now for him. So I would certainly want to speak to him first."

It’s also concerning that Trump seems to be getting Asian history lessons from Xi. Trump told the Wall Street Journal that the Chinese president had told him that “Korea actually used to be a part of China”—a contentious claim disputed by Koreans and most historians that caused outrage when it was reported in the South Korean press. What will Xi educate Trump on next? That the Dalai Lama is a terrorist? That the South China Sea is historically part of China?  We can only hope it’s that climate change is real.

Trump’s embrace of Xi’s worldview is likely confusing and alarming for Asian governments that have counted on the U.S. to counteract China’s growing influence.

Xi will no doubt be happy to read in the Reuters interview that Trump wants South Korea to pay for the Chinese-opposed missile defense system the U.S. is installing and that he plans to “renegotiate or terminate a U.S. free trade pact with South Korea” very soon. This has caused yet another uproar in South Korea, the country with the most to lose from Trump’s belligerence toward the North. Trump has already scuttled the Chinese-opposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. If he starts unilaterally scrapping trade and defense agreements with longtime U.S. allies, it’s going to make Xi’s life a lot easier.

It’s also interesting to note that Trump’s embrace of Xi comes as U.S.-Russia relations have soured. Trump’s remarks about Xi in the past few weeks actually go well beyond the controversial affinity toward Vladimir Putin that Trump displayed during his campaign. Perhaps we’ve been worried about the wrong foreign strongman pulling Trump’s strings.

April 28 2017 11:10 AM

Helping Refugees Where They Are

The impact of the unprecedented global refugee crisis on western countries has been profound, straining humanitarian aid budgets, threatening to dismantle Europe’s hard-won open borders, and helping the rise of nationalist populists like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen. But the vast majority of the burden has fallen not on America and its European allies, but rather on nearby lower and middle-income countries.

A new report from the International Rescue Committee and the Center for Global Development, looking at practical long-term solutions to address the global crisis, argues that it’s in these countries where efforts should be focused. This certainly makes a lot of sense, but putting the report’s ideas into practice will be extremely difficult for both rich and poor governments.

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Eighty-eight percent of the world’s 21 million refugees are hosted in low- and middle-income countries. This is mostly a function of geography—the refugee crisis is driven by conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and a handful of other countries, and the countries that border those conflicts end up hosting most of the refugees. It’s usually only after refugees are no longer able to support themselves in these countries, that they venture further afield. Many of the refugees I met in Iraqi Kurdistan last summer initially tried to find work in the relatively stable region, but finding none, some said they were planning on either going back to Syria or trying to get to Europe, both dangerous and uncertain options.

It wasn’t until about three years after the start of the Syrian civil war that Europe started seeing large increases in the number of Syrian refugees “Three years into it you’ve burned through your savings, you’re not allowed to work, you have trouble putting your kids in school. So you move on to where you think you have a better chance at rebuilding your life,” says Nazanin Ash of IRC, one of the authors of the report.

The problem is that economic opportunities are often hard to come by for the permanent populations of the countries near conflict, and locals can be resentful of aid or special privileges given to refugees. In one example, residents of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya—the world’s largest—often have better access to healthcare, education, and water than locals. At least some Kenyans have fraudulently registered as Somali refugees to gain access to these services. The question, then, is how to improve conditions for refugees in ways that also improve conditions for locals.

The report sees hopeful signs in refugee compacts, agreements that bring together host governments and donors and require long-term mutual commitments from both sides. Under a compact in Jordan signed in 2016, the EU agreed to provide improved access to European markets for Jordanian goods in return for Jordan bringing 200,000 refugees into the labor market in special economic zones. In Lebanon, the World Bank reached an agreement to tie funding to the country expanding education access for both Lebanese and Syrian refugee children. Under a compact in Ethiopia, donors agreed to fund two new industrial parks, where 30 percent of the workers will be refugees. In other words, initiatives to help refugees are easier to implement if they also help locals.

This spoonful of sugar approach makes sense, but it does require host countries to acknowledge that refugee populations are, in large part, there for the long term. That’s going to be a tough sell in places like Jordan, which has absorbed successive waves of refugees from nearby conflicts—Palestinian, Iraqi—or Lebanon, where a quarter of the population are now refugees and the prime minister recently warned that a “breaking point” for civil unrest is near.

“The reality is protracted displacement,” Ash said. “That’s a very difficult hurdle for countries to overcome, politically. If you had told me three years ago that Lebanon could withstand this influx of Syrian refugees, I would have said they couldn’t. But they have. So I recognize the need to be really sensitive about this question.”

Unfortunately, host countries will likely have to face this reality soon. “These are now populations that will likely never leave. It’s ultimately much better for all—host communities and refugees—if these populations are given legal status, allowed to work, allowed to send their kids to school. Pushing them to the margins presents risks for both refugee and host communities,” she says.

Given the prevailing political climate, ideas like these may also be a tough sell in wealthy countries, whose support is needed for plans like these to work. New factory jobs in Ethiopia are not going to make for a very effective campaign ad in Ohio. But mass global displacement, and the social instability that results from it, are not going away, and the handful of countries bearing the brunt of the crisis aren’t equipped to deal with it. Starting to address the problem is going to require commitment from wealthy governments. The current U.S. administration, unfortunately, has made barring refugees a signature policy, favors massive funding cuts to diplomacy and foreign aid, and takes a zero-sum, purely transactional view of trade policy.

“The U.S. has been the global leader in humanitarian response,” notes Ash. “I fear a retreat from those commitments and what that means in terms of rollback from everyone else."

April 28 2017 10:07 AM

The AHCA is Still Dead. Again.  

Plans to resurrect the AHCA in order to help President Trump fulfill his promise to gut Obamacare in his first 100 days have, unsurprisingly, collapsed. From the New York Times:

[S]eesawing commitments and the reservations from numerous lawmakers throughout Thursday laid bare the difficulty that Republican leaders faced in trying to push through a repeal bill. While revisions to their bill won over conservative hard-liners in the Freedom Caucus this week, those same changes threatened to drive away other members, even some who supported the first version.
A senior House aide said late Thursday that there would not be a vote on the health bill this week. At least 18 House Republicans oppose the latest version of the bill, the American Health Care Act, and leaders can lose no more than 22 to win passage if all members vote.
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Democratic leaders had said they would oppose any stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown if Republicans pushed for another AHCA vote on Friday or Saturday.

Among the major changes to the AHCA that have been proposed since its initial failure to win right-wing votes have been an amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur that would allow states to waive Obamacare’s essential health benefits and parts of its community rating rules, too, if those states participate in high-risk pools, offer subsidies for individuals with preexisting conditions, or otherwise attempt to “stabilize” premiums. The amendment, hilariously, would have also exempted members of Congress from the impact of its changes. No, really! After Vox’s Sarah Kliff reported this, MacArthur promised to plug that loophole.

For the time being, the AHCA remains a no-go. GOP leaders are saying a vote will happen sometime in the future. Or, as Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee, put it: The bill "will find its time."

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